Published in the July 19 – August 1, 2017 issue of Gilroy Life

By Marty Cheek

Marty Cheek

The American spirit is in the face of a child in a Radio Flyer wagon at the Morgan Hill Independence Day Parade. Photo by Marty Cheek

July 4, 2017, Morgan Hill’s Monterey Road lies quiet like a ghost-town. Hanging from streetlights, banners of stars and stripes barely stir in a lethargic breeze. In the summer sun, three men sweat as they haul onto the sidewalk the barricades which not long ago lined the streets.

Gazing out my office window at an empty downtown closed to traffic, I find myself falling into a philosophical mood. Please pardon me for these ramblings on the meaning of Independence Day.

For a few hours in the morning hours, an estimated 50,000 men, women, children gathered in a two-mile gauntlet through the downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods. As we lined the parade route, we celebrated our nation’s birthday with cheers and revving engines and patriotic tunes. We waved the red, white and blue and cheered the classic cars, fire trucks, school buses, marching bands, floats and fellow Americans who took a patriotic saunter along the asphalt.

All this pomp and pageantry showed off a pride in our American way of often pulling off the impossible. Somehow against the odds, we beat the world’s most powerful military and formed a new nation. We built that new nation America on the foundation of a government of, for and by the people. We based our values on self-evident truths that included the equality of all humans and the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

No doubt after leaving the downtown parade at noon, many of the 50,000 now sip a cold beer and munch a hot dog with neighbors at backyard barbecues. Or, as I hope to do soon, some might take a siesta lazing in a hammock, getting in a few snores before going to the fireworks show tonight at the Outdoor Sports Center. I have to, however, also wonder how many of us have thought much about the reason for this holiday, our tradition of coming together to honor all we have accomplished in our rich and violent history. Independence Day is more than parades and patriotic songs and a blazing night sky.

I’m proud I live in a land where, as the song says, “the stars and stripes and the eagle flies.” I also wonder how many of us, including me, are simply sunshine patriots. How many of us Americans who proudly take 10 minutes to put up a flag over our garage doors have ever taken 10 minutes out of our July 4 holiday to read the statement adopted by the Second Continental Congress in 1776 Philadelphia? If we took the time to read all the words contained in that old document declaring our independence from Britain’s tyranny, many of us no doubt would be shocked by some of its more radical ideas.

In the run up to this day, I’ve spent the past couple of weeks reading “The American Spirit,” a splendid publication written by David McCullough, one of our nation’s best tellers of the American tale. The subtitle is “Who We Are and What We Stand For.” That’s something I’ve been pondering while perusing this collection of the text of 15 speeches McCullough gave in his career as a history writer.

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In the summer of 2016, he decided to gather some of his speeches together into a book because he was “distressed by the tone of the political campaign and the animosity and the nastiness of some of it.” McCullough wanted to remind his fellow Americans what the true spirit of our country is. The speeches are well worth considering in this period of our political turmoil. America has faced strife and agitation among its citizens many times before, he reminds us. Our nation is one made up of complexly flawed humans who have faced times of division and internal battle. Somehow, despite our faulty mortal nature, we manage to come together when a crisis kicks in.

There’s much to say about the American spirit on this lazy July 4 afternoon. Despite our many imperfections, we Americans are a good people. We’re honest and hard working. From what I saw in this morning’s parade, we truly love our country. We innovate and invent. We transform. We have a way of life that’s the envy of the world. And we have men and women in our military and government and businesses and schools who seek to maintain that quality of life — and improve on it.

I’ll end these ramblings with lyrics played at today’s parade from a float loudspeaker. Sung by Rodney Atkins, they best describe the American spirit:

“It’s a high school prom, it’s a Springsteen song, it’s a ride in a Chevrolet, it’s a man on the moon and fireflies in June and kids sellin’ lemonade. It’s cities and farms, it’s open arms, one nation under God. It’s America!”